Grantee Spotlight: “If It Weren’t for the Community Foundation, We Wouldn’t Be Here”

Noelene Smith, MSW, Baby Institute

Noelene Smith, MSW, Executive Director of the Baby Institute

At the June 2016 press conference announcing a new, major partnership with Albany Medical Center, Baby Institute executive director Noelene Smith, MSW, began her remarks by stating, “If it weren’t for the Community Foundation, we wouldn’t be here.”

Smith founded the Baby Institute in 2009 to help Albany’s parents prepare their kids for success in school and in life. Their programs include free nine-week workshops for parents with children aged three years or younger, covering brain development, parenting styles, helping children express and manage anger, building positive self-esteem for children, and more. While parents attend workshops, children attend the Baby Institute’s free childcare program, through which trained childcare workers engage kids in positive, age-appropriate and mentally-stimulating activities.

Parents and children receive free transportation to and from programs, healthy breakfasts and lunches prepared by students at Abrookin Career and Technical Center, and a new book each month to keep and read together. After completing the nine-week program, parents continue in the Baby Institute’s Parent Connection, a monthly support group.

The Baby Institute’s work in early childhood literacy and helping children feel comfortable in classroom settings dovetails with a growing body of evidence showing that these are two of the most important drivers of success for children entering school. For more information about the importance of this work, click here to visit the Campaign for Grade-Level Reading, a national collaboration supporting school readiness and early childhood education for children from low-income households.

“We’re building a community of support,” said Smith. “We help parents so they can help their children, and parents help each other, too. We designed the Baby Institute to be inclusive, so that parents trust each other and take ownership for their progress.

“We looked for the obstacles that parents face, especially childcare and transportation,” continued Smith. “Once you connect with parents, you can get them to where they need to be for their children.”

“When we learned about the Baby Institute, we knew that it was a program that families needed,” said Jackie Mahoney, the Community Foundation’s Vice President of Programs. “We’ve worked with Noelene over the years to match her with funding opportunities that complemented their mission and programs. We’ve also helped her develop a budget and introduced her to the New York Council on Nonprofits for other training and support.”

The Community Foundation supports programs and organizations like the Baby Institute which provide high-quality early intervention and childcare. The Community Foundation’s funds, including the Times Union Hope Fund, the Standish Family Fund, the Capital City Fund, and the Foundation’s own Community Impact Fund, as well as the John D. Picotte Family Foundation and the Bender Family Foundation, for which the Community Foundation administers grants, have provided more than $40,000 in grants to the Baby Institute since 2012.

Smith also attended the 2015 Capacity Building Mini-Grant Program, through which the Foundation and other area funders provide free training in organizational management and board relations, and small capacity building grants, to small-to-midsized local nonprofits.

Until recently, the Baby Institute relied on donated space at Giffen Elementary School. The partnership with Albany Medical Center has yielded a permanent home for the Baby Institute at Albany’s Ida Yarbrough Apartments, an expansion of programs to serve more families, additional staff, and much-needed program supplies.

“When we had no funding, Jackie would meet with me to review grants and figure out what fit,” said Smith. “Without the Community Foundation, we wouldn’t have been around to prove we were ready for this partnership with Albany Medical Center.”